We’ve known for a while now that Google was readying a plot for Google Play Music in the Google graveyard. Nevertheless, it was still a bit of a surprise when the company announced that it would ditch Play Music for its YouTube Music service before the end of 2020.
As a long-time Google Play Music subscriber, it definitely seems to me like Google is being way too hasty at best and making a huge mistake at worst. And that’s mainly because Google Play Music and YouTube Music reflect two different philosophies.
Put bluntly: YouTube Music isn’t a music app, it’s a way to increase YouTube viewing minutes.
Singing a different tune
For starters, Google hasn’t implemented the ability to fully disable autoplay functionality almost two years after its launch. This is possible for playlists, but what if you want to listen to a single track? Then you’ll need to create a playlist solely for that track. You can disable autoplay if you want to watch a single video on YouTube, but not YouTube Music.
The anointed music service also doesn’t acknowledge that music and video recommendations and subscriptions aren’t necessarily the same thing. Sure, you might watch a funny music video or listen to an eclectic track on YouTube, but do you really want it affecting your recommendations in a music streaming app? This then leads to a scenario where people second-guess whether they should like videos on YouTube or subscribe to a channel due to the potential effect it will have on their music experience.
Google has improved YouTube Music’s offline capabilities, but it’s still a long way from matching Google Play Music’s offline mode. Here, Play Music adopts an app-wide offline mode, with the various app screens showing your offline content. But YouTube Music is content to simply direct you to your downloads page, with other tabs rendered mostly useless.
It seems like YouTube Music was made to keep people on YouTube first, and as a music player second.
YouTube Music does offer Smart Downloads (automatically downloading your favorite content) and the ability to download a “liked” playlist. But this definitely pales in comparison to Google Play Music’s functionality, offering automatic playlists (e.g. last added, thumbs up, purchased) and the ability to cache while streaming.
Sure, many of these gimped or missing features might not be intentional. It’s also great that the music locker feature is finally coming to YouTube Music as outside of client-server streaming platforms like Plex, Play Music was one of the only ways that avid collectors can stream their private collections.
However, all of the aforementioned lacking or intrusive features illustrate the gulf in how Google views Play Music versus YouTube Music.
A move to benefit YouTube
The search giant’s decision to simply kill off Google Play Music in favor of YouTube Music isn’t a surprise given the company’s reported obsession with engagement at any cost. Roughly a year ago, Bloomberg reported that YouTube employees were told not to “rock the boat” after they raised concerns about toxic video recommendations.
In fact, one computer scientist interviewed by the outlet says he told YouTube that their recommendation engine was an “addiction engine.” The scientist felt that Google didn’t express any desire to change this system. This only serves as more evidence that Google is perhaps willing to do almost anything for YouTube engagement, so why not kill a beloved app too?
Google could’ve simply rebranded Google Play Music to YouTube Music instead, or considering Google’s recent attempts to bring all of its services back under the Google name with Nest, Android Pay, and the rumored Android TV rebrand, why not just Google Music?
It’s not like Play Music didn’t already have YouTube video integration either. You’d think that deeper yet more thoughtful integration of YouTube’s vast library would’ve been possible without such drastic measures.
Between Google killing a perfectly good app and its quest for higher YouTube engagement figures, it’s a good thing that there are plenty of alternatives for those that want more “Music” and less “YouTube” from their music streaming apps.